Every now and then foreigners have questions about darkening.
This is not real strange, since they must have heard that in Holland and Belgium you can forget good results with young birds that are not darkened.
I would gladly like to help those guys, especially since there are many novices amongst them, but unfortunately giving advice is impossible for various reasons.
- Where they live there is another climate and the times that the sun rises and sets differ from here.
- They have other racing programs.
- In other countries the breeding season differs from here.
All these aspects matter as far as darkening is concerned.
What I can do is explain how we do it in Holland and in Belgium.
Some smarter Dutch started with it in the late 70-ies and some time later many Belgians began to use eye drops that contained cortisone.
In both cases the result was that the moult was stopped and those who darkened the birds or used eye drops were unbeatable in August.
And August was exactly the month that birds normally start moulting.
When cortisone was banned, since it was considered as drug (doping) the Belgians also began to darken.
In the beginning they were not enthusiastic about this Dutch 'invention' since they lost many babies which they blamed on the darkening system.
Later they found they were wrong since immense amounts of babies that were not darkened also got lost, especially from the first training tosses.
IN HOLLAND AND IN BELGIUM
Most fanciers start breeding end of November to end of December in Holland andBelgium. They call it winter breeding.
The most important races are in August.
Before the middle of March there is no need to darken the winter breeds.
We stop darkening end of May or early June.
Those few who want to perform well in September darken one month longer.
Some people say that the birds must be able to find the drinker but I find it risky and prefer the lofts to be completely dark.
HOW MANY HOURS?
A golden rule is that the birds have 10 hours daylight MAXIMUM.
WHEN the birds are exposed to those 10 hours light is not relevant.
You can darken from about 6.00 p.m. till 8.00 a.m. like most people do but you can also put the birds in the dark at 7.00 p.m. till 9.00 a.m. the next morning.
It is even possible to darken the lofts at 3.00 p.m., then lift the darkening when it is dark so that the birds 'are in the light' at sunrise.
An advantage of this method is that the birds have oxygen in the night since most fanciers shut off the ceiling to darken the lofts.
As I said the Belgians were sceptic initially. Some said that birds that were darkened as a baby would not perform as a yearling. But today they know better, it does not make any difference. In most cases the best babies are the best yearlings still. .
So it is useless to darken winter breeds from the moment they are weaned. In February the days are short enough and nature darkens them.
The second round however is a different story.
Babies that are born middle of February or later should be darkened from the moment they are weaned.
Why is it necessary to darken?
As I said the most important races for young birds are in August but' that is the month that healthy birds start moulting.
And when birds start moulting they do not perform any more.
When the hormones that are responsible for the moulting process become active
the condition goes down dramatically.
Furthermore birds that moult are seriously handicapped.
Look at such birds after they have taken a bath; they can hardly fly up and do not even feel like getting out of the loft to fly.
Another reason why birds that were darkened perform so well is that about 3 weeks after the darkening is lifted you get a kind of euphoric effect.
You can compare this with nature in spring.
In March birds start singing, mating and building their nests.
This is not because they know it is March and not because it is getting warmer (March is sometimes still very cold) but because the days get longer.
End of November or early December the weather is often soft but pigeons do not feel like mating, then they are in a kind of winter sleep, because the days are short.
That is why people who practice winter breeding switch on the lights and make the days longer 2 weeks before they mate up the birds.
In February however, even when it is bitterly cold birds do want to mate and build nests since', here we go again, the days get longer.
When birds are darkened they do not throw the flights but the small feathers are renewed.
When these birds are raced later on they have a full wing with no flight out.
We all know that when the 4th flight is thrown the little feathers will follow soon and that means the end of good performances.
Some switch the lights on for 16 or more hours a day. In that case the opposite will happen. With 'the lighting system' the flights are renewed but not the small feathers.
Most people who tried this were disappointed about the result.
Later on people found that the moult can also be stopped by putting 2 drops of decadron (dexamethasone) in the water daily.
It works indeed but it is also forbidden in Holland and Belgium.
Fanciers thought they would never find the forbidden dexamethasone when the droppings were tested but with the technology of today they can even find out if there is one drop in 100 litres of water.
A positive test meant that they were expelled for 3 years.
To day the newest trend is to darken old birds.
I will deal with that in another article.